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9 Crucial Leadership Challenges

January 14, 2014

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Most leaders were initially chosen to lead because of their technical or operational capability.

Most of those that then make it through to the higher echelons of leadership are chosen because of their alleged track record and their relationships with their seniors and allied networks.

The very few who also possess or acquire outstanding people skills and have the courage and integrity to live the espoused values, become the most respected and admired leaders.

Those most admired and respected leaders have also overcome the following crucial challenges.

1: Low Attitudinal Competence: The ability to apply one’s best attitude to what’s happening now; what has happened and what might happen; and not be stuck with habitual attitudes. This skill determines how we learn, adapt and overcome whilst adhering to the values. This skill whether one is a leader or not, is crucial for both personal and organisational success. Attitudinal competence is more than emotional intelligence, which on its own is insufficient to deal with the complexities of our humanity in organisations.

2: Disengaged from staff, either by chosen work practices or aloofness, or both: Too many leaders at all levels are simply disengaged from their people. Disengaged leadership is the single biggest cause of disengaged employees. Most disengaged leaders are disengaged because of their work practices – stuck in front of a computer, analysing and reporting on data, or participating in meetings of dubious value. Some disengaged leaders choose to be disengaged because they are either afraid of being with their people or believe there is no value in doing so, or that they will compromise themselves if they do.

3: Not distinguishing between popularity and respect: Whilst most of us like to be liked, as leaders we need to be respected first. Many leaders think that being liked is very important. Smart leaders know that being respected is more important than being liked. Earning respect is a primary duty of the leader, and that won’t happen if being liked causes the leader to breach the values aligned with accountability and their consequences.

4: Leading in a one dimensional command and control manner: There are still too many leaders who believe that command and control is the best and only way. They are fully deluded and their people are too scared to tell them the truth. Whilst there are spurts of increased performance and productivity, there is long term mediocrity and talent and IP drain. (Frankly, in writing this segment I’m sorely tempted to name the organisations I know where this flourishes, however I shan’t!) These idiots are damaging to their people, their organisation and the whole concept of leadership. They aren’t just at the top; they exist at all levels of leadership. They need to understand that even the modern military embraces a much wider framework of leadership styles.

5: Inability to hold people effectively accountable: Sadly in the commercial and non-disciplined government sectors (largely all but the military and law-enforcement), there is a serious gap in leaders being able to achieve effective accountability amongst their people. The cause is a duality of broken performance management process and the lack of supervisory and leadership conversation skills. There cannot be accountability unless there is a clear and enacted agreement as to both accountabilities and ensuing consequences, where the ideal is successful execution with appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

6: Inconsistency: We humans are very capable of being inconsistent, caused by the pressures of personalities, fear, lack of understanding or practice and a range of other factors. However as leaders we can ill afford this luxury, for consistency is one of the most important three ingredients of trust. We cannot trust some-one who is inconsistent can we? The other two associated ingredients are care and competence. Can we trust a leader who inconsistently cares about us or is inconsistently competent?

7: Stuck in the safe status quo: There is no more disillusioning a leader than the one who adheres to the status quo. Away go the brilliant innovative passionate people who want to make a difference. In come the innovative competitors. We are in an age of continuous massive change and there is no place for a leader who wishes to maintain the status quo, for they are largely afraid and have stuck habits and are ignorant of the possibilities that abound. Yet they persist, allowed to remain by other disengaged dinosaurs, running an organisation that will soon become extinct. I feel sorry for the disempowered people they leave behind.

9: Incongruence about strategy, tactics and resources, including human: One of the primary duties of a leader is to ensure that the strategy aligns with the values and vision; that the tactics deliver the results; and that the resources are available to enable the proper execution. The gap between strategy and results is evidence of the incongruity that exists between the senior leadership and the frontline. Much of the cause is due to planning in isolation; poor communication; a lack of understanding of the distinctions between strategy, tactics, implementation and execution; an erroneous estimation and management of resources/talent needed, often driven by fearful monetary policies.

Fortunately all of these challenges can be overcome by clarity about their root causes – fear, habits and ignorance and then application of the solutions – courage, flexibility and learning.

Of course there are more detailed requirements and specialist expertise needed, and they are readily and viably available.

There is no excuse for these challenges to remain unaddressed.

What do you think?

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